Obama on the Gulf Oil Spill: Where’s the Bully Pulpit? More Committees, Commissions, Plans and Prayers

Last night, in his first Oval Office speech, President Obama had the perfect opportunity to define his executive, leadership and inspirational skills and abilities, as the leader of the free of the world, the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States. Did he succeed? Alas, while his rhetoric was somewhat soaring, or perhaps hovering, he yet again missed the tanker and failed at what could have been a golden and critical moment – to actively develop and implement a National Clean Energy Plan  and tie the need to end our addiction to fossil fuels with the need to curb our emissions of climate changing GHGs.

Though Obama did mention the necessity for a clean energy future, and that the time is nigh; that oil is a finite resource; that we need better regulations, safety standards, and better enforcement for offshore drilling; that we’ve known for decades that the days of cheap and easily accessible oil are numbered; that we need to end America’s addiction to fossil fuels, and that we’ve failed to act “with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires,”  what he failed to mention were immediate, specific actions and goals.  No “this is what I am going to do, because I can and I will. It’s in my power so I will make it so”.  Instead, more planning, more general commitments, more committees, more commissions, more across the aisle sharing of ideas, fair hearings, et. al. ad nauseum.

If this is a war, a battle, a siege, as some of the rhetoric implies, where is the battle plan, the battle cries, the rallying the troops? The St. Crispen’s Day speech for the Gulf? For a National Clean Energy plan?  For a sustainable future? “From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered!” That we are going to transition from fossil fuels within the next few years, “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”

And while BP will be “made responsible” to pay out all legitimate claims, what about the claims that it does not deem “legitimate”? What about the claims of the wildlife and their breeding grounds, and their migratory posts? What about the other oil companies, who as it turns out, had the same response plan for the Gulf as BP’s, walruses and all? Their role? -oops, it happened to BP first, phew for them, and with all of their millions of profits that they can, and will, continue to purchase lobbyists (and google keywords) to ensure no real, effective climate legislation comes to pass.

Obama talked about the lessons learned. Well, actually these lessons were learned a long time ago – Santa Barbara, Valdez, Texas City, Prudhoe Bay? And ok, as we all know, now is the time, and the “consequences of our actions are now in plain sight.”  Actually, it’s been a long time coming. It was the time before the economy tanked, before Inconvenient Truth hit the screens, time before Hansen testified to Congress in 1988 that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now,” and that the warming trend was “caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere,” before Deepwater Horizon began drilling.

Yes indeed, now is the time, but not for “ideas and approaches and to give them a fair hearing,” not just for plans and prayers. Let’s not just rely upon our “strength, resilience, and unyielding faith that something better awaits us.” Let’s not just pray for courage, or “that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.” The challenge at hand, this  disaster, is not an Act of God, it’s not a natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane,  it’s not a fishing expedition that involves a blessing of the fleet, it’s not a lesson in faith with the knowledge that God is “always with us, even in the midst of the storm.”

So, while planning and even praying is better than inaction, there must be more. War is at hand, and not in the Middle East, but against our own greed and hubris, against human desire for cheap energy and overall cheap stuff, for drilling into the bowels of the Earth for “cheap” fuel, against the lack of imagination and inspiration to change our ways. For this war, for these times, tactics and technologies and decisions must be implemented immediately. It is our fault, and it is up to us humans to fix it and prevent it, not just through faith, but through our minds, our hands, our knowledge, imagination, ingenuity and humility.

Now, I don’t mean to bash Obama, I really don’t. He is far better than any Bush or other conservative Republican, but he should take a cue from George W. and be the “Decider.” Especially in such an extreme and critical juncture in human history – when if we do not implement a National and Clean Energy Plan, we will witness incredible environmental and economic catastrophes on a global scale, far worse than the Gulf. So, if the President, or Congress, will not use their powers to implement such necessary changes, immediately, it is up to we the people, to force their hand and make it so.

Gwenn Morreale
Gwenn Morreale
Gwenn grew up on the campus of Bard College in a small town made famous by Steely Dan in the Hudson Valley. A nature girl her entire life, she was definitely inspired by Pete Seeger and the Clearwater, and was lucky enough as a high school intern to sail on the sloop for an entire week. She holds a M.A. in Media Ecology/Communications from New York University where she wrote her thesis on the contrarian’s use of propaganda to create a debate about climate change. For the past four years, she has been developing outreach campaigns, and researching and writing about climate change and energy efficiency. Prior to this, she has worked in the entertainment industry developing documentaries, and managing a plethora of film, television and theatrical productions in New York and Los Angeles. Currently she resides in Los Angeles and is developing websites and video projects, and researching and writing about environmental issues, for the Sierra Club and the Shadowland Foundation.

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